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Delphi for Linux Likely Says Borland Executive

Michael Swindell, Senior Product Manager for Borland’s Linux
development, speaks candidly about his company’s Linux
plans.

By Dwight
Johnson
,
Linux Today

Michael Swindell, Senior Product Manager of the Borland division
of Inprise Corporation, had his hands full at the recently
concluded LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. This was the first
LinuxWorld Expo for Inprise and they had just announced the major
release of their VisiBroker middleware product for Linux.

Of course, the buzz was all about the recently concluded Borland
Developer Survey and what additional products Borland would port,
expecially the prospects for seeing their famous RAD platform
Delphi on Linux.

Michael graciously sat down with Linux Today to talk about the
products for Linux Borland is doing now and is likely to work on in
the future.


Is this your first Linux show?

Michael: We’ve attended as attendees before but
this is our first time to exhibit.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see your booth. Did you
mount a big one?

Michael: No, it’s fairly conservative. It’s a
10’x20′ booth and we’re showing several products. We’re showing
Interbase for Linux, we’re showing JBuilder for Linux, and we’re
announcing today VisiBroker for Linux.

So VisiBroker is even out of Beta and into release?

Michael: It is released. And we’ll have a full
trial version download on the Web site very soon.

This is a product I’ve never heard of. Is it a product for
developers?

Michael: It’s middleware; it’s for building
distributed applications. It’s a CORBA ORB. It’s pretty much the
industry leading CORBA ORB. We’ve got about 40 million
installations of VisiBroker.

It’s been available on UNIX for some time?

Michael: Correct.

It was probably an easy port for you.

Michael: It was a straightforward port for us.
We’re at Version 3 of VisiBroker and we’re coming out with the
Version 4. Version 4 is currently in Beta.

Will it be released simultaneously for the other platforms
and Linux or will there be a delay?

Michael: From here out, they’ll be released
simultaneously.

Would you mind reviewing what you do for
Inprise/Borland?

Michael: Senior Product Manager. And I
represent the basic Linux development tools.

What do you want to tell me the most? What’s the most
exciting thing?

Michael: There are really two exciting things
today. First is that we’ve released our industry leading middleware
VisiBroker for the Linux platform. This is huge. The other thing
that we’ve done today is we’ve released the survey results from our
developers’ survey.

What can we conclude from the survey?

Michael: The main thing that we can conclude
(which was surprising to us) is that we’re seeing Linux turn a
corner and we’re starting to see application development.

It’s one of the things that we were looking for in the survey:
are developers ready to do mainstream application development.

The survey is very clear — that’s what developers are really
looking for now.

In the six to seven year history of Linux development, most of
the development has been in the area of infrastructure — in
building the system, kernel building, desktop building, building
the pieces of the Linux infrastructure. And the tools have been
actually very appropriate for that type of development.

It appears now that the platform is ready for application
development which will really demand a different type of tool to
really drive a lot of mainstream development — things like Delphi
and C++ Builder which make doing technologies like developing with
data bases and with Internet user interfaces very easy to do.

Has Borland had these tools working on UNIX platforms prior
to this? Or was it all on Microsoft?

Michael: We’ve had our middleware and our data
base technologies on UNIX, Java and Windows. Our tools have been
primarily on the Windows platform.

That’s going to be a more difficult port then.

Michael: That’s going to take us longer to port
those products to the Linux platform.

Are you well along with those ports now?

Michael: We’ve started. The survey certainly
helps guide us and gives us a lot of information.

Are you at least in Alpha?

Michael: You mean like a Delphi or a C++
Builder? No.

We’re not announcing any of the tools right now but what we have
in progress is the infrastructure of the tools. We’ve just
completed porting the back end compiler that’s shared by Delphi and
C++ Builder to Linux. Now we can take the front end, the C++ front
end, for example, and put that with the back end compiler and then
we can compile things like Mozilla or basically any Linux
application that’s a C++ application with that. That’s one of the
pieces of the core infrastructure of Delphi and C++ Builder.

Then you’ve also got the IDE, the application framework, the
libraries. The first step we’ve taken is getting the compiler
there. And that’s something that we’ve recently completed.

Do you have a timeline you’re working on, a projection when
you’re going to have these products in release?

Michael: Right now what we’re doing is
determining what it is that we’re going to build.

Something like a compiler, for example. No matter what type of
tool we build or have to port, we have to bring those there. Right
now what we’re working on is bringing the core technologies that no
matter what we build are going to have to get there.

And the market research that we’re doing and the surveys and
customer research is going to tell us what to build. Until we know
exactly what it is that we’re going to build, we don’t have a
timeline.

You said that the survey indicated that you should be
building Delphi and C++ Builder.

Michael: Right.

Anything else?

Michael: Some of the things that it’s told us
is that developers are looking for rapid application development,
that they’re looking for graphical development. Close to 90% of
developers said they require graphical user interface development.
That’s pretty significant for our type of development tool.

The other result from the survey that is significant is that
over 90% of the developers in the survey require data base
connectivity, which actually was surprising to us.

That really tells us that developers are ready to move into
mainstream application development. That’s end-user applications,
that’s business applications. That’s a very good indicator of the
type of development that developers are interested in developing on
Linux.

Server side development is the strength of Linux. Linux has been
very strong as a Web server and E-mail server. The survey is
telling us customers want to start building Web applications —
server side applications.

Do you have tools out there now that do that on the Windows
side?

Michael: Yes, Delphi. Delphi, C++ Builder and
JBuilder for Java are all tools that develop both client side and
server side applications.

Delphi 5, for example, which is just being released now, has XML
and DHTML capabilities, so you can build server side applications
that are completely browser based.

Are you familiar with an application called Enhydra by
Lutris Technologies?

Michael: Actually yes.

It’s a Java based, browser based application server —
open-source. Would you be in that same application area when you’re
talking about XML and serving off data bases?

Michael: I’d need to know more about Enhydra in
order to compare us to them, but that’s the type of application
development we’re talking about.

Are you planning to port that?

Michael: It’s something we’re assessing right
now. The application server is built on top of VisiBroker.
VisiBroker is the infrastructure for our application server.
Getting VisiBroker there gets us very far along in getting the
application server there.

It sounds like there is a large range of products that could
potentially be ported.

Michael: Most of our products are ported now.
Our imbedded data base technology Interbase was the first SQL data
base server for the Linux platform. That’s been shipping now for
one year. We actually launched that in May of 1998.

With VisiBroker, we’ve brought our middleware technology over to
Linux. And we have announced that JBuilder, which is our pure Java
development tool, will be available for Linux following our Solaris
release, so the projected timeframe on that should be around Q1.
It’s largely dependent on the Java infrastructure on Linux.

What’s the status on that?

Michael: It’s coming along. That’s why we’re
saying Q1. There are some Java One products out. The Java one
infrastructure is there but the Java Two platform needs to get
there because JBuilder is a Java Two development tool. That will be
our first development tool that gets to the Linux platform. Then
Delphi and C++ Builder we’re assessing right now. We are basically
investigating what needs to be there, what must be the
characteristics of those products.

What do you believe is the market potential on
Linux?

Michael: The market potential is wide open
right now. Linux is now turning the corner into becoming a
mainstream platform.

How long do you think it will take it to turn?

Michael: Over the next year. Part of that will
depend on companies like Inprise to deliver application development
tools. Applications largely drive the mainstream status of an
operating system. Once there are applications, then more people
will be attracted to the platform; then it will solve a lot more
business needs.

It’s incumbent on companies like ourselves to deliver the tools
for people to develop those applications, to get the platform to
mainstream status. It’s important that we’re recognized and that
Linux is making that turn, that we support the platform, and that
we make a commitment to the platform.

You’re going to have competitors in the application
development tools area. What is going to distinguish the Borland
products?

Michael: What’s always separated Borland
development tools, from other development tools.

Most development tools take things like compilers and debuggers
and editors and wrap them up into a toolbox or IDE. What Borland is
good at is taking that a step further and making application
development much easier, applying Rapid Application Development
(RAD) techniques to all types of development, making graphical
development, user-interface development, tremendously easier.
Delphi is a hallmark in that area.

And then making data base development tremendously easier in
application development.

In our Windows products, we’ve made Internet enablement very
simple. Now we’re making XML, DHTML development and server side
development very easy. We also have made distributed object
development very simple.

It’s going beyond just writing code, which is traditionally
what’s done in building the infrastructure, building kernels, and
taking complex technologies like data base user interface and
distributed object computing and making those technologies very
simple in application development. That’s what we see would be our
advantage, why people would want to use our tools.

Do you see this as a way to make an end run around Microsoft
by getting on to a neutral playing field, or is your Microsoft side
business doing just fine and this is just another market area and
an opportunity that’s opening up?

Michael: It’s definitely not a way of end
running Microsoft. Our Windows tools are very successful and we’re
very happy with them and we’re committed to the Windows
platform.

Linux really changes the landscape and we need to support the
Linux platform and make our tools right for the Linux platform.

How does Linux change the landscape?

Michael: The nature of the way Linux is being
developed and distributed. Nothing’s been done like that
before.

You mean open-source?

Michael: Of course.

Are you going to open-source anything?

Michael: We recognize that we have to support
developers building open-source applications. A Delphi that’s for
building proprietary applications is not going to be appropriate
for the Linux market. So our first step is making sure that
anything that we develop, in the tool space, will allow developers
to build non-proprietary applications. Beyond that, open-sourcing
our own technology is something that we’re certainly looking
at.

Coming from a commercial perspective, a long history of
commercial development, and proprietary development and moving into
an open-source space, we have to approach it cautiously and make
sure that we do this in a way that we can:

1. help the open-source community; there’s no point in doing
open-source things that don’t help the open-source movement,
and

2. will help us grow our user base and make money.

We’re definitely open to it, but we’re not making any
announcements right now that we’re going to open-source this
technology or that technology.

Have you given any thought to doing your own Linux
distribution like Corel is doing?

Michael: Our core competencies are in
development tools and middleware and data bases. We’re going to
continue to build on our core competencies right now.

Corel’s core competencies are in application software, for
example, word processors — in fact, they own some of the products
that Borland once sold.

Michael: Correct. Exactly.

But in order to support the applications that they’re
committed to, they felt it would be to their advantage to actually
do their own distribution. It would be a little more friendly to
the customer base that they’re trying to reach.

Michael: Right.

But you have no thoughts…?

Michael: It sounds like a good product that
they’re trying to build. But we’re going to focus on tools and
middleware.

Are you going to support all the distros out there?

Michael: Absolutely. So if Corel Linux becomes
a huge success, then we need to support Corel.

Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to Linux
Today.